Cleaning a steam wand

One of the more easily overlooked maintenance items in an espresso maker is the steam wand. Milk can easily gunk up a steam wand and lead to poor steam performance over time. So what do you do?

Well there are a couple options. First is to use a product like Rinza, which is made to actually dissolve the milk proteins to clean that stuff away. Seattle Coffee Gear has a couple videos on their website showing just how well this stuff works by using it on small parts that hopefully don’t resemble yours, so search their channel for “Rinza” to find them.

If you have OxyClean, though, it will work just as well at cleaning out the milk solids from the steam wand. Yep, the stuff in the laundry aisle. Just about a tablespoon dissolved into about 8oz of hot water will clean the stuff off your steam wand in about 10 to 15 minutes. Just let the wand soak for about that long before rinsing with clean water rag. Then make sure to run water through the steam wand to rinse out the inside — if you have a dual boiler or heat exchanger machine, you’ll want to purge steam through it.

After that 10 minute soak, it should open up your steam wand to have it performing like new.

Specifically to the Breville Infuser, which is what I have, and comparable machines, the symptoms that tell you the steam wand will need cleaned are pretty telling:

  • Steam won’t have much pressure behind it, and it’ll seem like it’s struggling to push steam out or come up to full steam pressure, if it ever reaches full steam pressure
  • Milk takes longer to steam
  • It will struggle to swirl milk in the pitcher — particularly noticeable if you’re using half and half (caffĂ© breve), but may not be as noticeable with smaller quantities
  • Turning off the steam doesn’t completely cut off the steam pressure, and steam will continue to leak through the steam wand as the machine auto-fills

So if you have those symptoms with your espresso machine, chances are the steam wand needs to be cleaned. OxyClean will also clean off any milk solids stuck to the outside of the steam wand that can build up and interfere with the milk swirling in the pitcher. So do this about the same time you descale your machine or run its clean cycle to keep it cleaned out.